CALM supporter Mark Parsons blogs about his epic challenge, raising money in memory of his brother, Toby…
As I sit round the pool in Tanzania drinking a bottle of Kilimanjaro beer and looking at the mighty impressive Mount Kilimanjaro in the distance, I rewind back to the morning of Wednesday 4th February 2015 that inspired me to do this trek. It was my birthday and the first time in my life I hadn’t heard my brother Toby’s voice on my birthday. This really hit me hard and there and then I decided I wanted to do something in memory of Toby who took his own life in December 2014.
I then proceeded to search the internet for challenges. I wanted a challenge that was slightly different from the usual, one that would test me both physically and mentally. After researching on the internet for an hour or so I decided on trekking Mount Kilimanjaro. The trek was then booked and scheduled for 17th September. This gave me just over 7 months to train and prepare… in Dubai’s excruciatingly hot summer, temperatures barely dropping below 40 degrees (I can hear all your sympathetic sighs whilst writing this).
My training consisted of stopping (well cutting down) the infamous all you can eat and drink Dubai brunches, and signing myself up to Original Fitness Boot Camp with my colleague and close friend Tracey. The thought of me walking for 7 days straight would have definitely made Toby laugh; the most I have ever walked before is around Bluewater shopping centre on Christmas Eve, frantically searching for presents for my family.
Time flew by and, before I knew it, I found myself at Dubai airport flying to Kilimanjaro via Nairobi with two very large backpacks. I was now extremely eager to get there, to meet the rest of the group and get started.
Our group consisted of 29 trekkers, all completing the challenge for a number of different and very worthwhile charities. The sense of togetherness this created was amazing. The first few days of the trek were harder than I had expected, however I knew the further we walked, the quicker the summit would come. After three days you could actually start to see the top of the mountain (even though it did look hundreds of miles away still)!
(Above pic: Mark, Toby, Ben, Dad)
Toby had run many marathons for charities and made our family extremely proud of him, so there was no way I could quit – that’s brotherly competitiveness for you. Each day provided different challenges, from hiking through a rainforest with monkeys chattering in the trees above, to struggling through a desert for 8 hours a day with the sun beaming down relentlessly. After 4 days of trekking we found ourselves at Kibo Hut, our final destination before summit night.
So, summit night had finally arrived and a knock on the door from one of the porters at 10.30pm meant we had an hour to have a cup of tea and get ourselves ready to start climbing once again. We set off in single file with our head torches tilted and shining bright on the heels of the person directly in front. Hour after hour passed and it felt like we were no closer to the top of the mountain. I was regretting wearing a watch at this stage as it seemed like I watched each and every second tick past. The 15 porters with us were absolutely brilliant, singing songs and shouting “Hakuna Matata” regularly, they really helped to keep spirits and the morale of the group high.
We then got to the top of the mountain (or so I thought), as I could see a Kilimanjaro sign about 10 metres away. As I started hugging and congratulating everyone I was informed we were actually only at Gilman’s point (5,695 metres high) and we had another 200 metres/two hours until we got to the summit!
Two hours might not sound a lot to most, but after walking for 5 days already and with blisters starting to form in places I never expected, we were all finding it very tough, especially seeing other groups of people walking back from the summit looking exhausted. But as we eventually walked towards the summit it was very emotional and extremely satisfying.
The views were incredible and it was time for the obligatory photos with the Kilimanjaro sign. I also took the time to recruit a few of the porters as Chelsea fans and to sing a few Chelsea songs to Toby. Tobes was a massive Chelsea fan and would have loved that! After taking as many pictures as I could, it was time to pick up the backpack and weave myself between the people making their way up the mountain and get myself down as quick as I could. It takes 5 days to get up and 2 days to come down. It was just as hard coming down as it was going up and my knees took a battering. As we got to the bottom of the mountain we all realised why they make everyone summit at night. The mountain is completely vertical and if you saw that during daylight there is no way anyone would try to walk up it!
After two days of walking back down the mountain I was back at our plush hotel contemplating and celebrating such an amazing achievement by having champagne and a three course meal with my new found friends.
I never thought I would do anything like this, however, after my hero took his life in December I wanted to do something to make him proud of me.
Miss and love you loads bruv x
You can follow what Mark and the fundraising team in memory of Toby get up to on Twitter @RememberingToby. If you’ve been bereaved by suicide, you can find help and information on our After Suicide page.
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